We try to train our dogs but will not listen to them. We do not understand dog behavior – why a dog suddenly attacks or why he barks so much when no one is home.
We seek the counsel of dog trainers to fix these dog behavior problems. We want…we want…we want!
…seek rather to comfort than to be comforted
Imagine for a moment that you’re a dog and you’re taken away from your family. You are given shelter, plenty of food and drink, exercise, and…a new family who seems to like you most of the time. It’s quite frustrating for you though because no one seems to understand dog behavior.
You try different body movements and signals, but they don’t seem to understand most of these gestures. You know they are trying to communicate with you because they look at you when they speak, and they’re trying frantically to use hand signals that you don’t understand. You’re lonely. You’re afraid. You try to adjust.
Is it possible that something similar was experienced by your dog? Do you understand dog behavior?
Dogs do communicate very well with each other and can communicate effectively with humans if we learn their language. Sometimes, it’s the human who needs the dog behavior training!
Barks, whines, howls, whimpers, and growls are all part of a dog’s verbal language. Like humans, dogs also rely heavily on body movement and posture to communicate. They also rely on social order.
So, let’s get back to our example of the dog that’s suddenly part of a human family. A dog always thinks and reacts in one of two ways based on the established social order.
He will either lead (control) or follow (submit, obey). If the pet owner has not clearly established that the human is the leader, the dog will assume he is in control.
Seek rather to comfort…
As the leader, it is your job to understand and provide for the needs of your dog. This doesn’t just mean his physical needs. This also means trying to understand his confusion and frustration with not being able to fully communicate with you because you do not yet speak his language. It means learning your dog’s language. It means learning everything you can about dog behavior.
…than to be comforted
It’s nice to know that you taught your dog basic obedience commands. He seems to get it. That makes you feel good, huh?
Why did he just bite the neighborhood kid who was just reaching down to pet him? (Read about dog aggression. ) Now, you think you have a behavior problem.
You again seek to be comforted in knowing that your dog is trained. You just won’t fully get it until you reverse your perspective and try to start learning your dog’s language.
To understand, than be understood….
When I was a child, I learned that if a dog was wagging its tail that I could pet it. I was taught by other humans that tail wagging was an animal behavior like waving – a sign of friendliness or a welcoming gesture.
As an adult, I’ve learned that the tail wag communicates much more than happiness or a friendly greeting. Tail wags have many meanings depending on the shape of the tail, the position relative to the body, and the speed of the wag. Wow!
I now realize that it is of far more value for me to understand a dog’s language than to try to teach him to understand mine through training.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Training your dog is imperative. What I am suggesting is that if you can “read” your dog, training is more effective.
Think of a two-year-old child. She is fascinated with everything she sees. She wants to pick everything up for proper examination. She picks something up, holds it up in the light, and maybe even puts it in her mouth.
That behavior is typical of a small child going through their discovery phase. What does a parent do to protect their child from harm? They keep things out of reach which may harm her if she picks it up or puts it in her mouth.
Because we understand a child’s behavior, we communicate with her in a different way. We couldn’t just look at the child and say “don’t pick that up, it’s not good for you.” She wouldn’t understand you.
We could try “training” her not to pick up certain items. That would probably work with repetition for specific items, but what happens when something new is introduced?
She’d go back to her own language and understanding. She’d pick the unknown item up, look at it in amazement and perhaps put it in her mouth.
By understanding dog behavior and communication, you will be able keep him and others from danger. You will be able to remain the leader and recognize when your dog thinks you’ve relinquished the duty to him.
…than be understood
Your dog will actually learn some of your verbal and body language as well. He will do this through training and observation. He will see you as either his leader or someone he must lead.
If you’re ready to understand what your dog is trying to say to you, then you’ll want to read Stanley Coren’s book How to Speak Dog .
Coren brings together research from various fields of knowledge and demonstrates the ability of most dogs to understand the human language at about the two-year-old level.
The book is illustrated with drawings that help you visualize what Coren reveals about the dog’s body language. He even dedicates independent chapters on Face Talk, Ear Talk, Eye Talk, Tail Talk, and Body Talk.